Good Food Circle’s lasting legacy
Wearing a slightly different professional hat, I often find myself addressing conferences and professional gatherings, quite often on the subject of food tourism — in other words, tourists drawn to a destination by its promise of the food and food culture on offer to them.
Several years ago, when I first began speaking about the subject, it was to provide an introduction to the concept of food tourism and the gentle suggestion that it might well be an area worth looking at.
These days, I have refined my message: If you’re in the hospitality end of the tourism business, you HAVE to focus on food tourism, an area the World Travel Organisation continues to recognise as the fastest growing sector in the tourism overall, and any local initiatives HAVE to include a concerted and co-operative promotion of the local food offering.
Mind you, should I ever be asked to address the seasoned practitioners of the Kinsale hospitality sector, I might do well to listen as much as speak, for food tourism i s something they’ve been up to in Kinsale for quite some time, long before the term was ever used.
It began with the Kinsale Good Food Circle, a group of local restaurateurs who came together to promote the town’s food offering as a whole rather than just their individual enterprises, including the staging of an annual Gourmet Festival. Last year, the Good Food Circle celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Back in 1976, on foot of the success of a series of Wild Geese Weekends, gourmet events that played on Kinsale’s prominent place in Irish history and were very successful, the seeds were sown for the formal establishment of the Kinsale Good Food Circle, when 12 hotels (Acton’s Hotel, Blue Haven Hotel, Monastery Hotel) and restaurants (Gino’s, Bacchus, The Spinnaker, Man Friday, Bistro, The Vintage, Rathmore House, Skipper’s, and The White Lady) came together and launched the Gourmet Festival in October that year.
Decades before this became the norm, they pooled marketing resources, devoting half of each establishment’s advertising budget to promoting Kinsale as a gourmet food destination.
They looked at raising standards across the board, dispatching mystery diners to each venue and critiquing each offering at group meetings. And it began to have the desired impact: Pretty soon the little seaside town was developing a national reputation for restaurant standards at a time when a good eating establishment was hard enough to find at the best of times, even in Dublin — yet in Kinsale you had a town of fewer than 3,000 souls offering your pick of any of a dozen good dining options.
Chefs par excellence
Two chefs in particular would both go on to national renown, an early indication of exceptional standards well above the national norm prevailing at the time. Gerry Galvin, an acolyte of Myrtle Allen and one of the great forebears of the modern Irish food movement, ran The Vintage with his wife, Marie, and Michelinstarred chef Derry Clarke, now of L’Écrivain, began his career in Peter Barry’s Man Friday restaurant.
With the passage of time, the KGFC has evolved. The legendary Peter Barry, though remaining the driving force behind the KGFC, passed on his place at the helm of the iconic Man Friday in 1978 to Philip and Joss Horgan, where son Daniel is now overseeing a return to the glory days.
Jim’s son, Liam ( KGFC chair), is to the fore in the renowned Jim Edwards’ — a wonderful gastropub, long before the term was ever coined. The White Lady, also an iconic Kinsale estab- lishment, continues to offer good food, accommodation, and entertainment while Restaurant d’Antibes and The Bistro at the White House features fine local meats and seafood on its menus in a friendly environment. These days, Acton’s food offering is served up in its Sidney’s Bar & Brasserie and the Fisher Street dining room, with views over the harbour to match the fine fare from the kitchen.
The Trident Hotel has undergone a smart makeover and the kitchen takes particular pride in their careful sourcing of local ingredients. Pearse and Mary O’Sullivan run the multiple award- winning Toddie’s Restaurant at the Bulman Bar, where Pearse’s fine cooking continues to attract plaudits from public and critics alike. Martin and Marie Shanahan own and operate Fishy Fishy, probably Ireland’s most famous seafood restaurant, and TV celebrity chef Martin never misses an opportunity to promote his adopted hometown and seafood in general.
Newest members, Julie and John Finn, at Finn’s Table, have added yet another superb restaurant to the town’s already bulging portfolio and looking at the calibre of a whole new wave of recent openings in the town, it appears there is plenty of fresh new blood to join them.
At the popular Kinsale restaurant Lemon Leaf Café are Jacqui Ryan and Tracy Keoghan, proprietor. Pictures: Dan Linehan
The dining room at Finns’ Table, run by John and Julie Finn, on Main Street, Kinsale.
Trident Hotel staff members Ela Jack, Ania Migon, Trish Grey, and Lisa Desmond at an open day in the newly restyled hotel in March. Picture: John Allen